Proposition 187 is approved in California

Year
1994
Month Day
November 08

On November 8, 1994, 59 percent of California voters approve Proposition 187, banning undocumented immigrants from using the state’s major public services. Despite its wide margin of victory, the ballot measure never takes effect.

In 1994, California, the home of Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, was not yet the Democratic stronghold many now consider it to be. A popular destination for immigrants from both Latin America and Asia, its demographics changed dramatically in the second half of the century, but neither Republicans nor Democrats won a decisive share of these newcomers’ votes. That would change after a group of Republican activists and state-level legislators, responding to the state’s economic slump and the presence of over a million undocumented immigrants, decided to launch the campaign for what became Prop 187. In the name of saving taxpayer money, the proposition prohibited the undocumented from accessing basic public services such as non-emergency health care and both primary and secondary education. It also required public servants like medical professionals and teachers to monitor and report on the immigration status of those under their charge.

Although public support was high from the start, the threat of barring over a million California residents from basic public services stirred up vocal opposition. As Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s campaign used the threat of immigration in an attempt to scare voters, 70,000 people marched against 187 in downtown Los Angeles, and 10,000 public school students walked out of class on November 2, just days before the vote. The measure’s passage on November 8 was an entirely symbolic and short-lived victory for conservatives.

Within a week, a legal challenge had prevented the new law from taking effect—it was held up in the appeals process until 1999, when a Democratic governor dropped the state’s appeal. Studies have since shown that Proposition 187 played a key role in galvanizing immigrants’ rights activists and pushing Latinx and Asian voters away from the California Republican Party. Over the next decade, 66 percent of newly-registered California voters were Latinx and another 23 percent were Asian. In the same period, Republicans went from holding roughly half of elected offices in the state to less than a quarter. California has since formally repealed Prop 187 and enacted some of the United States’ most sweeping protections for the undocumented.

READ MORE: US Immigration Timeline

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Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) signed into law

Year
1990
Month Day
July 26

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the most sweeping affirmation of rights for the disabled in American history at the time, into law.

As disability rights attorney Arlene Mayerson would later write, the story of the ADA began “when people with disabilities began to challenge societal barriers that excluded them from their communities, and when parents of children with disabilities began to fight against the exclusion and segregation of their children.” Activists explicitly compared their struggle to the Civil Rights movement, arguing that without federal requirements in place, the disabled faced discrimination both as patrons of public spaces and businesses and in seeking employment. In 1986, the National Council on Disability, an independent government agency, issued a report that reached the same conclusion, highlighting the many gaps in federal law that made full participation in society and equal opportunities for employment impossible for many disabled Americans.

Thanks largely to the lobbying efforts of Patrisha Wright, cofounder of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, federal legislation similar to a version of the Civil Rights Act for the disabled gained support in the late 80s. The eventual bill, the ADA, covered a wide range of physical and mental disabilities. The bulk of the act provides legal recourse against employers who discriminate against the disabled and set standards of access to public buildings and public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, etc.). It also established federal laws regarding service animals, among other things. 

In March of 1990, a group of disability rights activists staged the Capitol Crawl, in which disabled people pulled themselves up all 100 steps of the Capitol building in order to highlight the nation’s lack of accessibility. Despite pressure from some church groups, who felt the ADA unfairly burdened them, the bill passed the House by unanimous voice vote and the Senate 76-6, paving the way for its signing on July 26 by President Bush, who said, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

READ MORE: When the ‘Capitol Crawl’ Dramatized the Need for Americans with Disabilities Act

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Clean Water Act becomes law

Year
1972
Month Day
October 18

The Clean Water Act becomes law on October 18, 1972. After centuries of reckless treatment of American rivers, streams, lakes and bays, the landmark act institutes strict regulations on pollution and quality controls for the nation’s waters for the first time in its history.

The ’60s had been marked by some truly horrific revelations regarding water pollution. A 1968 survey revealed that pollution in the Chesapeake Bay resulted in millions of dollars of lost revenue for fisherman, while a 1969 study found that bacteria levels in the Hudson River to be at 170 times the legal limit. The same year, pollution from local food processing plants killed 26 million fish in one lake in Florida, the largest fish kill on record, and an oil slick resulted in an infamous fire on the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland. When President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, it was clear that water pollution would be one of its top priorities.

Though Nixon was generally very proactive on environmental issues, he vetoed the Clean Water Act, even after it sailed through both houses of Congress, on the grounds that its price tag was too high. The legislature overruled his veto the following morning, and the bill became law on October 18, 1972. The CWA mandated the protection of any waters in the country with a “significant nexus” to navigable waters. It established a framework for identifying, licensing, and enforcing standards on originators of “point source pollution,” contamination stemming from a single point like a factory or sewage treatment plant. It also contained many other provisions for finding, regulating and cleaning up water pollution, giving most of these responsibilities to the recently-created EPA. 

Since the CWA took effect, levels of pollution have greatly decreased, although many environmentalists believe it did not do enough to control non-point source pollution, the kind of contamination that cannot be traced back to a single origin. Though the CWA clearly had a positive impact, a high percentage of American waterways still do not meet the water quality standards it set forth. 

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George W. Bush describes Iraq, Iran and North Korea as “axis of evil”

On January 29, 2002, in his first State of the Union address since the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush describes Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil.”

Just over a year into his presidency and several months into a war which would eventually become the longest in American history, Bush identified the three countries as the major nodes of a wide-ranging and highly dangerous network of terrorists and other bad actors threatening the United States. The speech outlined the logic behind Bush’s “War on Terror,” a series of military engagements which would define U.S. foreign policy for the next two decades.

Bush speechwriter David Frum is credited with coining the term “axis of evil,” which was meant to evoke the Axis powers against which the United States and its allies fought in World War II. The Bush administration wanted to emphasize the outstanding threat posed by these three “terror states,” arguing that each was in the process of building weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. Bush’s father, former president George H.W. Bush, had invaded Iraq in 1990 after repelling the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait, but left Saddam Hussein in power. 

After 9/11, George W. Bush’s administration waited less than a month before invading Afghanistan and deposing the Taliban regime there. It was not long before Bush turned his attention to “regime change” in Iraq. Although there were no direct links between Iraq, Iran and North Korea—Iraq and Iran, in fact, were commonly understood to be geopolitical enemies—the concept of an “axis of evil” united in its desire to harm Americans proved useful to those making the case for a second invasion of Iraq.

READ MORE: A Timeline of the U.S.-Led War on Terror

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Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks at UN, justifies US invasion of Iraq


Year
2003
Month Day
February 05

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gives a speech to the United Nations that is both highly consequential and full of fabrications on February 5, 2003. Using talking points that many within his own government had told him were either misleading or outright lies, Powell outlined the United States’ case that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, making the argument for the invasion that would happen the following month. Powell has called it a “blot” on his record.

President George W. Bush‘s administration contained several prominent officials, such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, who had advocated for the First Gulf War and were known proponents of a second invasion of Iraq. Soon after a group of mostly-Saudi terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, a movement began within the Bush administration to remove Iraq’s leader, the dictator Saddam Hussein, from power, on the grounds that he was connected to the attacks. Powell was not among this clique—according to him, he warned Bush in August of 2002 that removing Hussein might be easy but turning Iraq into a stable, friendly democracy would not be. At Powell’s urging, Bush took his case to the United Nations, leading to the decision to send inspectors into the country to search for “weapons of mass destruction.” The inspectors found no proof of such weapons, but Congress nonetheless authorized Bush to use military force against Iraq in October of 2002. According to Powell, Bush had already decided to do so before sending Powell to the UN.

Powell claimed he was delivering “facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence” as he told the UN that Iraq possessed biological weapons. He knew this to be a lie. He had reportedly received the text of the speech four days before it was to be given, during which time the State Department’s intelligence bureau had raised a host of red flags. Powell’s employees had identified many key claims as “weak,” “not credible,” or “highly questionable.” Among these questionable assertions were the claims that Iraqi officials had ordered biological weapons removed ahead of UN searches, that Iraq’s conventional missiles appeared fit to carry chemical weapons, and that Hussein possessed mobile labs capable of producing anthrax and other toxins. The speech cherry-picked testimony from various Iraqi sources, omitting that Hussein’s son-in-law, who had been in charge of Iraq’s WMD program before defecting in 1995, had testified that Iraq had destroyed all of its chemical weapons after the First Gulf War.

Powell’s speech may not have launched the invasion, which began in March, but it justified it to the American public and provided cover for the U.S. with the international community. Though the UN maintained that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, the Bush administration and allies like Tony Blair’s government in Britain felt that Powell’s speech had done the job. In addition to selling the war on false pretenses, it also had a disastrous unintended consequence: Powell made 21 mentions of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, calling him the link between Hussein and the Al-Qaeda network that had plotted the 9/11 attacks. In reality, the term Al-Qaeda had not been used by any of its alleged members until after 9/11; it was, in fact, a loose network of likeminded radicals that only congealed into a distinct organization after the United States targeted it. Likewise, Zarqawi had had only fleeting contact with the network before Powell’s speech. After the speech, however, Zarqawi began to amass a stronger following within Iraq, where he became a notorious insurgent leader and greatly escalated the guerrilla war against the United States into an all-out sectarian conflict.

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WikiLeaks publishes the first documents leaked by Chelsea Manning


Year
2010
Month Day
February 18

On February 18, 2010, a relatively obscure website called WikiLeaks publishes a leaked diplomatic cable detailing discussions between American diplomats and Icelandic government officials. The leak of “Reikjavik13” barely registered with the public, but it was the first of what turned out to be nearly 750,000 sensitive documents sent to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning. Manning is now considered one of the most prolific and significant whistleblowers in American history, as her leaks shed light on atrocities committed by American armed forces, painted a far grimmer picture of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and greatly embarrassed the United States’ diplomatic establishment.

Manning, an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, was deployed to Iraq in October of 2009. Her job gave her access to all manner of classified and sensitive information from various organs of state. On January 5th, 2010, she began downloading massive amounts of material, starting with 400,000 documents pertaining to the Iraq War. Manning put the information on a CD marked “Lady Gaga” in order to smuggle it home and upload it to her personal computer. On leave in the United States, she shopped the information to both The New York Times and The Washington Post but neither took an interest. She began sending material to WikiLeaks in early February, but again got no response.

Then, on February 18, Manning sent WikiLeaks the cable known as “Reykjavik13.” The site published it within hours. Manning later said that she felt the cable depicted the U.S. government “bullying” the government of Iceland, and hoped that the leak would put pressure on the U.S. to lend economic assistance. The incident would have been a tiny historical footnote if not for the leaks that followed. Throughout the spring of 2010, WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of documents leaked by Manning, oftentimes via The New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian

The diplomatic cables contained frank discussions of policy and American descriptions of foreign leaders, many of whom found cause to be offended, but other leaks revealed shocking truths about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning and WikiLeaks released multiple accounts and even videos of U.S. airstrikes that killed civilians, and the information they disclosed led watchdogs to estimate that American armed forces were responsible for over 10,000 more civilian deaths than they had officially acknowledged. As a whole, the leaks showed that the wars were not only going much worse than the government led the populace to believe, but that the scope of the humanitarian disaster was larger as well.

Manning was arrested in May of 2010 and was eventually sentenced to 35 years in military prison, which many called an extremely harsh sentence for a whistleblower. President Barack Obama stopped short of pardoning her but commuted her sentence in January of 2017, just three days before leaving office. She received international acclaim from free speech and anti-war activists, and is now known as a one of the most significant whistleblowers in U.S. history.

READ MORE: The United States Began Protecting Whistleblowers in 1777

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Vice President Agnew resigns

Year
1973
Month Day
October 10

Less than a year before Richard M. Nixon’s resignation as president of the United States, Spiro Agnew becomes the first U.S. vice president to resign in disgrace. The same day, he pleaded no contest to a charge of federal income tax evasion in exchange for the dropping of charges of political corruption. He was subsequently fined $10,000, sentenced to three years probation, and disbarred by the Maryland court of appeals.

Agnew, a Republican, was elected chief executive of Baltimore County in 1961. In 1967, he became governor of Maryland, an office he held until his nomination as the Republican vice presidential candidate in 1968. During Nixon’s successful campaign, Agnew ran on a tough law-and-order platform, and as vice president he frequently attacked opponents of the Vietnam War and liberals as being disloyal and un-American. Reelected with Nixon in 1972, Agnew resigned on October 10, 1973, after the U.S. Justice Department uncovered widespread evidence of his political corruption, including allegations that his practice of accepting bribes had continued into his tenure as U.S. vice president. He died at the age of 77 on September 17, 1996.

Under the process decreed by the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, President Nixon was instructed to the fill vacant office of vice president by nominating a candidate who then had to be approved by both houses of Congress. Nixon’s appointment of Representative Gerald Ford of Michigan was approved by Congress and, on December 6, Ford was sworn in. He became the 38th president of the United States on August 9, 1974, after the escalating Watergate affair caused Nixon to resign.

READ MORE: What Is the 25th Amendment?

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Joseph Marion Hernández becomes the first Hispanic elected to Congress

Year
1822
Month Day
September 30

On September 30, 1822, Joseph Marion Hernández becomes the first Hispanic to be elected to the United States Congress. Born a Spanish citizen, Hernández would die in Cuba, but in between he became the first non-white person to serve at the highest levels of any of three branches of the American federal government.

Hernández belonged to a St. Augustine family that came to Florida as indentured servants. Despite these humble beginnings, records show that his family eventually became wealthy enough to own property and several slaves, and that Hernández was educated both in both Georgia and in Cuba. Throughout the 1810s, the United States made a variety of efforts to take Florida from the Spanish, finally succeeding after Andrew Jackson led an army through the territory in the First Seminole War. What Hernández did during this time is unclear, but he was either very savvy or very lucky—he fought the Americans during the war and received substantial amounts of land from the Spanish government, but then pledged loyalty to the United States and was allowed to keep his three plantations when the territory changed hands in 1819. It was then that Hernández changed his name from José Mariano to Joseph Marion.

The newly-acquired Florida Territory was allowed to elect a delegate to congress, but that delegate did not have voting privileges. Florida’s legislative council elected Hernández to represent the territory. During his brief tenure—he served for less than a year before losing his re-election bid—Hernández was instrumental in facilitating the transition from Spanish to American government in Florida. In addition to securing the property rights of many Floridians who remained after the annexation, he also advocated for roads and infrastructure to bind the new territory together and make it an attractive candidate for statehood.

He went on to fight in the Second Seminole War, helping his adopted nation drive the natives from its new territory. The war saw the loss of two of his plantations, however, as well the destruction of his political ambitions after he was involved in an incident in which an American contingent captured a number of Seminoles despite approaching them under a flag of truce. Hernández later served as Mayor of St. Augustine before retiring to Cuba, where he died in 1857. 

READ MORE: Hispanic History Milestones: Timeline 

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Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

Year
2009
Month Day
August 08

On August 8, 2009, Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor is the first Hispanic justice to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Sotomayor’s mother was an orphan from rural Puerto Rico. Her father had a third-grade education, did not speak English, and died when Sotomayor was 9 years old. Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx and claims that watching the CBS legal drama Perry Mason in her youth led her to aspire to a career as a judge. She received a scholarship to attend Princeton University, where she advocated strongly on behalf of the school’s underserved minority communities, and received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979.

READ MORE: How Sonia Sotomayor Overcame Adversity to Become the United States’ First Hispanic and Latina Justice

Sotomayor spent much of her career in private practice but also served on the board of the New York State Mortgage Agency, where she became a vocal proponent of affordable housing and frequently called attention to the effects of gentrification. She also served on the New York City Campaign Finance Board and the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. In 1991, Republican President George H.W. Bush fulfilled her childhood dream by nominating her to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Six years later, she was confirmed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Over the course of her judicial career, she issued an injunction that ended the 1994 Major League Baseball strike in favor of the players, sided with an employee of the New York Police Department who had been fired for sending racist materials through the mail, and gained a reputation for dealing bluntly with the lawyers who argued before her.

Sotomayor was the first Supreme Court justice nominated by President Barack Obama, who had taken office the previous January. The choice of a Hispanic woman by the nation’s first non-white president led to a backlash that set the tone for her confirmation hearings. In particular, a comment she had made in 2001 about “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences” being a better-qualified than being “a white male who hasn’t lived that life” rankled her opponents. Nearly every Republican on the Senate Judicial Committee—all of whom were white men—brought up the comment during their questioning, while pundits speculated about Sotomayor’s impartiality and even accused her of being racist. Nonetheless, she was easily confirmed by a Democratic majority and nine of the Senate’s 40 Republicans.

In addition to becoming the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Sotomayor was the third woman named to the bench. The following year, Justice Elena Kagan would become the fourth. Since her appointment, Sotomayor has been notable for her forceful dissent in several cases regarding racial discrimination, as well as siding with the majority in a 5-4 decision that upheld the Affordable Care Act.

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The Equal Educational Opportunities Act takes effect

Year
1974
Month Day
August 21

The Equal Educational Opportunities Act takes effect on August 21, 1974. The new law addressed civil rights issues in education, barring states from discriminating against students based on gender, race, color, or nationality and requiring public schools to provide for students who do not speak English.

In many ways, the EEOA was an extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned racial discrimination in schools as well as businesses and outlawed the segregation of schools. The Civil Rights Act was one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history, but it did not singlehandedly put a stop to discrimination in public education. Aside from the famous “Massive Resistance” campaign against desegregation in the South, schools continued to fail racial minorities and students for whom English was not their first language.

The EEOA mandated that schools accommodate students regardless of nationality and that they provide adequate resources for students who did not speak English. In effect, this meant that schools must now offer both English classes for non-native speakers and classes in other subjects taught in students’ native languages. Subsequent Supreme Court cases clarified the full extent of the law. In 1974, the Court ruled that the EEOA mandated that schools offer classes in students’ first languages while they learned English as a second language. In 1982, it ruled that, based on the EEOA, undocumented students not only had the right to attend public schools but were obligated to do so, the same as all American children.

Thanks to the EEOA, schools across the country now offer classes in languages other than English, in addition to teaching English to non-native speakers. The act also provided legal recourse for students facing discrimination in public schools, greatly bolstering the progress that was made during the Civil Rights Era.

READ MORE: The Mendez Family Fought School Segregation 8 Years Before Brown v. Board of Ed

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